all about hoof abscesses

What to know about horse hoof abscesses!


It seems like there are dozens of things that can cause your horse problems. One of the fastest to create lameness is definitely the hoof abscess, which is basically a pocket of infection in the hoof.


  • Every now and again, some bacteria finds its way into the hoof. And by into the hoof, I mean this literally. Not just in the white line, but inside the hoof, around the bones and laminae.


  • The bacteria is essentially trapped. This commonly occurs at the junction of the hoof wall and the sole. Small cracks allow this to happen.


freshly trimmed hoof showing white line and hoof wall

Even the tiniest of cracks can let bacteria in. And yes, the white line is not white.


What allows bacteria in the hoof to create a hoof abscess?


  • Sometimes the cracks or entry point are a result of a knock or trauma.


  • Sometimes the entry point is the result of wet or dry conditions that change the hoof enough to create an opening.


  • Sometimes it’s a hoof bruise that develops into an abscess.


  • A horse that has had laminitis is also more likely to suffer from abscesses as a result of the damaged structures in the hoof.


diaper in hard hoof boot

These thick leather boots are great for abscesses and trail riding but maybe not at the same time.


hoof wrap on a horse hoof

These temporary bandages are also great for abscesses, but not trail riding.

White blood cells will attack that bacteria in the abscess


  • This is your horse’s way of clearing up foreign critters in your horse. There’s also associated inflammation, which we all know is not comfortable.


  • What started out as some invading bacteria is now a pile of bacteria, a bunch of inflammation, and white blood cells.


  • In any other location, this may look like a pimple or soft swelling that can be popped or drained. But the hoof capsule’s rigid structure prevents this, and the build-up of pressure causes incredible and quickly developing pain.


Most horses with an abscess will be noticeably lame all of a sudden.

  • The digital pulse of the affected leg will be strong! The video below shows how to find the digital pulse.


  • The best thing you can do is call your veterinarian. Vets are able to diagnose, treat, and medicate.


  • Many farriers are quite skilled at digging abscesses out, but a vet can do this plus give you pain meds and make sure it’s not something more complicated and dangerous.


  • Some laminitis cases look like an abscess. For more on laminitis signs, read this one!


x ray of hoof and pastern


If your horse does have an abscess, a track or opening needs to be created to allow drainage.


  • It’s true that some abscesses work their way out of the hoof through the coronary band. This is called gravel and happens because the sole wall is much harder and tougher than the coronary band so the abscess looks for the path of least resistance.


  • When a veterinarian can create a track through the sole, gravity helps to drain things. I’ll add that radiographs are key to finding the location of the abscess and finding the best way to access it.


  • There is TONS of information about soaking hooves in this that or the other to help things drain. But a few things are generally agreed upon – find a track and keep it clean.


ichthammol hoof goop

There are lots of hoof goops to choose from. The lovely smelling ichthammol is just one of them!


  • Unless there is a hole, no amount of soaking or poultice or magic concoctions are going to help relieve the pain like finding a track for the abscess to drain.


  • In some cases, prolonged use of products can actually dry out the sole and make things harder. Literally harder, the sole becomes a rock.

Keep the hoof clean and packaged up to prevent more infection


  • There are tons of things you can do for wrapping – diapers, duct tape, vet wrapping, etc. I prefer to use an actual boot to hold a diaper in.


  • Boots also give you the advantage of keeping the hoof wall edges safe if a shoe has been removed.



hoof wrapped with vet wrap and duct tape above coronary band

I’m not a huge fan of wrapping over the coronary band, but in some cases, your vet may suggest it.


  • If abscesses tend to be common for your horse, time to evaluate your hoof care routine, the balance of his hooves, his diet, and even the footing he lives and works on. You may not be able to do much about the footing, but you could add shoes and/or pads.

go shopping button for horse products


Opportunity for shopping! If you like the hoof wrapping options above, you can order them here. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, and it’s no extra charge to you. And also I appreciate your support. A LOT.


Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot for Horses, Black – thick-soled hoof boot for riding and hoof wrapping.


These Cloud boots are great for the horse that needs extra cushion


Ichthammol 20% Ointment (14 oz) (Drawing Salve) – for your first aid kit and hoof care


Hoof Wraps Soaker Sacks for Horse / Equine

Hoof Wraps Easy Soaker with pads


Hoof Wraps Brand Bandage – Affordable wrap for hoof protection





Thank you!